by: Andrew Upah
The idea that fun should be on our minds during COVID-19 may seem distasteful in light of recent events. However, since many of us continue to live and work in isolation — and we’ve yet to realize the full extent of the mental health fallout — it’s more important than ever to stay connected. Increasingly, tech is being used to bring us together. Far from frivolous, fun is the glue that bonds us during times of crisis.
There’s no shortage of advice out there on how to use online tools to keep productivity high. However, there’s a lot to be said for using the same tools to socialize with colleagues while remote. From virtual team lunches to workouts, it presents a great opportunity to foster a sense of community in a lighthearted way. And if ever there was a time to overcommunicate, it’s now.
Pick a place
Whether it’s Zoom, Google Hangouts Meet, Slack, or Microsoft Teams video conferencing is the next best way to hobnob with colleagues while you’re stuck indoors. Houseparty is another video platform, which includes in-app games and screen sharing — great for informal small groups. Then there are streaming services like Netflix Party. Not only can you watch movies together, but you also get to discuss what’s going on thanks to a nifty side chat bar. So with technology providing the ‘where’, how are companies getting creative?
Elevate your happy hour
The obvious first choice is the virtual happy hour. A chance to kick back, grab a beverage, and chew the fat. But even the humble happy hour requires rules to guarantee success. Top tips include keeping it small enough to encourage discussion, endorsing dressing up (if that feels right), suggesting everyone makes a specific cocktail or mocktail, and arming the host with a few conversation starters.
When you’ve nailed the basics, why not layer on a theme? Come as your favorite Shakespearean character, perhaps? (At least, that was a suggestion from someone in the Theorem team). Or maybe a treasure hunt or quiz?
Apply some imagination
In addition, the old adage, “never work with pets or children” is getting an overhaul as companies roll out #FamilyFunFridays and daily storytimes for little ones — providing light relief for stressed-out parents. The New York Times’ advertising department even hosted a virtual pet parade so employees could show off their pampered pooches.
Away from video, keep things going on Slack by introducing channels skewed specifically for posting photos of home office pets, providing useful parent resources, or starting a book club. Consider appointing a culture committee to dream up activities and solicit ideas from the team.
On a practical note, one ad agency created a private Instagram account to share tips and resources to help employees set up their home office. You could even roll out wellness programs that incorporate everything from high-intensity workouts to meditation to keep employees active.
Engage with the real world
It’s important to note that whichever way you harness tech, small gestures make a big impact. For example, setting a daily timer to encourage employees to go for a walk or take an hour to themselves reaps rewards. Or sending workers gift cards for local eateries so they can skip cooking dinner and order takeout. It’s about being thoughtful and meeting your employees where they are.
Creative communication is key to combating isolation
Social cohesion is a vital component of productivity. Unfortunately, lockdown and remote work is prompting another crisis of loneliness and disconnection. But there are many ways in which companies are using tech to provide a lifeline for employees. Not to make light of the life-altering circumstances that many find themselves in, but to provide support, structure, and camaraderie. Finding fun new ways for teams to connect now will make them stronger for the long term.